Jane Galt writes:
So many academics profess to be egalitarians, yet academia as a whole has produced one of the most radically inegalitarian societies to be seen since Louis XVI fled Versailles.
As a non-academic with egalitarian instincts, I see no paradox here. There are two features of academic inequalities which, in principle, make them much more acceptable than income inequalities, namely:
1. Academic success usually yields rewards which are confined to one sphere of justice, to use Michael Walzer's phrase. Success in business or the media, however, more often buys other rewards; it is tyrannical in Walzer's sense. The success of Bill Gates or Arnold Schwarzenegger has brought them more wealth and political power than the academic success of (say) Gary Becker. We egalitarians can tolerate inequalities as long as there are limits to the consequences of those inequalities.
2. Academic inequalities arise from a more legitimate process than business inequalities. The success that comes from peer review is more tolerable than the success that comes from office politics, rent-seeking and dumb luck. Many egalitarians (me for one) care about how inequalities arose, not about their mere existence.
Of course, these differences are idealized. Arnold Kling says:
I think that the inequality of outcomes in business is greater than the inequality of talents. But I think that such differences are even worse in academic life.
If he's right - some concrete examples would be nice! - then Jane Galt's complaint that " I [have not] experienced any other organisational culture, even in hyper-competitive consulting or investment banking, in which professional success is so readily confused with personal worth" would be even more powerful.
These caveats aside, I see no big hypocrisy in academics tolerating inequalities of academic merit more than they tolerate inequalities of income.
Another thing: Is my view here coloured by a difference between the UK and US? I suspect that, in the US, it is much more common for the brightest students to enter academic careers than it is in the UK. As a result, the best British academics are less likely to have great ability than the best US academics.